TGIF13 – Day Five: Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
It took the producers of the Friday the 13th series only one year to renege on the promised finality of The Final Chapter, which at the time might have seemed even more crass than it does nowadays, seeing as how we all now know never to believe that sort of claim with a horror series, anyway. But, no matter, the fact is another Friday film DID happen. Thankfully, even though they might have really considered calling it quits with the last one, they had still ended that movie with an intriguing hint of possible things to come, thus giving this new entry an excellent opportunity to pick up on that plot thread and give fans a new villain they were already familiar with, and had an actual connection to.
Instead, they made THIS. Sigh.
So what’s the problem here? Read on to find out. And remember, as always, SPOILERS AHEAD.
FRIDAY THE 13TH – PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985)
Directed by: Danny Steinmann
Screenplay by: Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen, & Danny Steinmann
It’s a few years after the events of The Final Chapter, and a now teenage Tommy Jarvis – having never mentally recovered from his traumatic experience – is transferred to the Pinehurst halfway house, a home for troubled teens.
Bad luck seems to follow Tommy wherever he goes, though. He is there barely a day when one of the patients snaps and kills another with an axe. As if that wasn’t bad enough, soon the rest of the kids, as well as everyone else in the surrounding community, are being brutally murdered by a maniac wearing a hockey mask.
The question is, given his fragile mind and occasional visions of Jason, is Tommy the one actually killing everyone, or has his old enemy Jason truly risen from the grave?
Unfortunately, it’s neither.
I know what some of you might be thinking: “C’mon, we’ve all heard fans bitch about this one before, but could it really be that bad? I mean, it’s not like the rest of the series is Academy Award winning stuff.”
I suppose that’s true, in a sense. Any criticism about Part V‘s poor acting, weak writing, and an overall lack of filmmaking skill could easily be met with the claim that this is the norm for these movies. Likewise, I’m sure those who are already pre-disposed to hating horror (and the slasher genre in particular) won’t find Part V to be any bigger a piece of trash than the rest of the series.
But if you’re like me, and actually have a soft spot in your heart for these things, you’ll probably have a better understanding of where I’m coming from with this one. Say what you want about the other Friday movies, but each of them has its own special kind of charm. There’s no charm here. A New Beginning is a dull, crass and callow movie; one that commits the ultimate horror movie sin: it completely cheats its audience. Are the other Friday films dumb? Yeah, no doubt. But, at the end of the day, at least they delivered what the audience wanted. That would not be the case this time around.
Like I said yesterday, the fourth film really could have been the last one, and it would have been a perfectly fitting finale. But, OK, they unsurprisingly decided to make another one. That’s fine…maybe a little exasperating, but pretty much par for the course with this genre.
Here’s the thing – when they decided to go ahead with Part V, they were actually quite lucky in that Part IV, while ostensibly the grand finale, had still given them an “out” in order to set up the next sequel…a final shot suggesting that young Tommy Jarvis was driven bonkers by his ordeal, and would one day possibly pick up where Jason left off. The idea makes sense – in a simplistic horror movie kind of way – and I maintain to this day that the franchise could have actually succeeded going in that direction. Sure, today it’s a little tough to picture the rest of the series with anyone but Jason as the villain, but Part IV actually did a decent job setting Tommy up for the role, and I think fans would have accepted the logic of it.
But if they were going to go that route, they really had to pull the trigger in this movie. The writers of Part V, however, must have thought revealing Tommy as the new killer was a little too obvious. This is the kind of series where it can actually benefit you to be obvious, but apparently they didn’t see it that way. And so, instead, they decided to use Tommy as a red herring, playing it like he might be killing everyone, but then in fact revealing a different identity altogether for the culprit. Admittedly, it’s a somewhat admirable idea, and maybe it might have worked if the people involved had any kind sort of concept on how to pull it off. But…they didn’t. The ultimate reveal of the “fake Jason’s” identity is, without a doubt, the biggest problem with this movie.
Roy the paramedic? The guy who we only see for a few seconds early on in the movie, and know absolutely nothing about? Are you freakin’ kidding me? Talk about one of horror’s all-time most embarrassing letdowns. OK, fine, you don’t want it to be Tommy…then why not just have the killer turn out to be psychotic halfway house resident Vic? We’ve already seen him murder one kid (speaking of which, I get that this place is supposed to run on “relaxed rules,” but I really think they got what they were asking for by allowing emotionally unbalanced teens to handle axes unsupervised). It certainly wouldn’t have been a stretch to accept Vic returning for a little more bloodshed. I guess, like in the case of Tommy, that would have made too much sense.
Needless to say, there are quite a few problems with the reveal of Roy as the impersonator Jason. For one thing, it’s an even worse cop-out than the ending of the first movie. Yeah, I might have complained about the lack of clues in the original film’s mystery, but at least it was somewhat made up for by having the excellent Betsy Palmer show up and finally explain her motives. With Part V, we don’t even find out it’s Roy until after he’s already dead, and we don’t find out why he did it until the sheriff helpfully explains the whole thing afterwards.
And how about that motive? As twisted as Mrs. Voorhees and Jason are, at least there is a strange – if psychotic – logic to their motives. But what the hell is Roy’s deal? We learn the murder of Roy’s son at the halfway house is what sets Roy off. Well, if he loved his son that much, why did he keep it a secret that he was his father? Why have him locked up in a halfway house? And why start killing everyone in town after his son is murdered? Actually, I take that back – the one person we don’t see him go after, oddly enough, is Vic…his son’s killer. Man, Roy, get your priorities straight.
But my real problem with the whole Roy thing is that the filmmakers keep blowing the mystery of it. They obviously want you to suspect either Tommy or Vic, and yet on two occasions they suddenly focus on Roy’s reaction to things (in particular when he looks at the body we’ll later discover is his son). Roy is an otherwise peripheral character, so we can’t help but think something must be up if they keep focusing on him for no reason. If they were going to make it that obvious, they should have just made him a bigger character from the beginning – thus lessening the disappointment of the big reveal. I’m no filmmaking genius, but this all seems pretty obvious to me.
But then, I’m not director Danny Steinmann, who originally cut his teeth in the world of porn and hardcore exploitation films. Now, I’m not knocking those industries (believe me, I love me some exploitation). And hey, Steinmann’s Savage Streets is a personal favorite of mine. But it seems like he was in a little over his head here. Granted, you don’t need to be a brilliant director to make a Friday the 13th movie, but Steinmann’s more exploitation-driven sensibilities keep getting in the way of what is trying to be (and probably should have been) a fairly psychological, character-driven piece. There’s an awkward balance between the film’s dramatic moments and those that are more goofy and over-the-top. And yes, Part V is a more brutal and cynical entry than usual, but lest anyone think that sounds like a good thing, it’s important to remember that most of the film’s gorier moments ended up on the cutting-room floor anyway, thus effectively negating Steinmann’s attempt to make a more visceral Friday the 13th movie. So what do we end up with instead? Monotony.
The overall failure of the film’s central mystery and Steinmann’s direction might have been made more tolerable by a likable cast of characters, but we’re out of luck there, as well. The halfway house kids are barely even characters; they’re more like walking representations of troubled teen clichés (the kid with anger issues, the “slow” kid, the nymphomaniacs, the stutterer).
Still, they fare better than the rest of the yahoos who populate the town, like the horn-dog Billy or the two greasers who seem to have time-traveled in from the ‘50s. I suppose these characters were supposed to be comedic, but they’re just so darn absurd that they often take you right out of the moment (there’s an even more egregious example of this with two other characters, but we’ll save that for today’s “Crazy Old Coot” section). And don’t even get me started on little Reggie the Reckless, a rather transparent (and unsuccessful) attempt to recapture that Corey Feldman magic from the last movie.
So to sum up, this one is pretty crappy, and in my opinion the lowest point in the Friday the 13th series. But rather than end my review in a purely negative way, I’ll give due diligence and admit there are a few bright spots here and there. For instance, a machete vs. chainsaw duel between Roy/Jason and heroine Pam is pretty cool, if a little too brief.
And while I was lukewarm on John Shepherd’s performance as the teenage Tommy Jarvis the first time I saw the film, I’ve found myself a little more appreciative of it in subsequent viewings. In retrospect, the problem actually rests in the writing, and how inactive it makes Tommy (he only says 24 words in the entire movie). But Shepherd actually does a pretty decent job overcoming that limitation and non-verbally expressing Tommy’s mental trauma. It’s not an amazing performance, by any means. But it’s a hell of a lot better than any of the other halfway house kids.
Oh, and I do have to admit to still harboring quite the crush on the halfway home’s resident New Wave girl, Violet…
…who pretty much steals the movie in one of my favorite unintentionally hilarious moments in the whole series – her incredible, memorable dance to Pseudo Echo’s “His Eyes,” before her unfortunate death. Pretty bitchin’ song, too.
So, yeah, I like those things. The movie still sucks, though.
BODY COUNT: 21
Whether it was a by-product of the filmmakers knowing they had to somehow make up for the disappointing climax or simply the inevitable influence of Danny Steinmann’s sensibilities, Part V really upped the body count from the previous entries. And yet, of the entire series up to this point, no film was more affected by the MPAA than this one. No doubt themselves spurred on by Steinmann’s more cynical, harsh take on the material, the MPAA forced the producers to cut almost all of Part V‘s bloodiest moments in order to get the all-important R-rating. And so, even with 21 deaths (two of which, it should be said, actually occur in a dream sequence), this one still feels relatively tame when compared to the Tom Savini gore-fest that was Part IV.
Like I said, the MPAA did their best in keeping this film’s deaths from being too impressive. A notable exception, if only for the sheer inventiveness of it, is the rather gruesome moment where Roy/Jason ties a kid’s head to a tree trunk with a leather strap, and then proceeds to twist the strap on the other side of the tree, thus crushing his skull. One of the more brutal “non slash or stab” murders in series history.
BOOB COUNT: 6
Six is certainly not a number to sneeze at, especially when two of them belong to Tina (played, oddly enough, by an actress named Debi Sue Vorhees), but you might still be expecting a little bit more debauchery from a former porn director, right? You almost had your wish. The footage Steinmann originally turned in for the film’s sole sex scene was so close to hardcore that it was cut down to almost nothing…not by the MPAA, but by the film’s producers! That’s right – even the people behind the Friday series thought Steinmann was going a little overboard. So his vision of an especially raunchy Friday might not have survived, but Steinmann still got three of the film’s gals to remove their tops. It’ll have to do.
CRAZY OLD COOT:
While there’s no crazy old coot in the traditional sense, I suppose you could vote for Ethel, the filthy and foul-mouthed white-trash farmer who is a constant thorn in the side of the halfway home. Both Ethel and her dumb motorcycle-riding son Junior seem like they stepped right out of an episode of Hee-Haw – yet another example of the movie’s extremely questionable sense of humor.
As you’ve probably surmised, trying to find things to nitpick about in this movie is like shooting fish in a barrel – so I’ll try to just keep it to the main things that bothered me.
Like, for example, this damn halfway house. I already mentioned their problematic decision to let the kids handle axes. Likewise, is it really the best idea to try and help Tommy overcome the trauma he experienced as a child by putting him in the care of an institute in the very same town where it happened? Sometimes it seems like people talk about nothing but Jason in Crystal Lake…I don’t think Tommy is going to be forgetting the guy anytime soon.
Now, as for Roy being revealed as the killer, I’ve already covered the general stupidity of that decision. But even if you accept the rather weak explanation for his motives, you’re still left with some real head-scratchers. For instance, how the hell did a guy like Roy manage to make the rather convincing Jason mask he wears? I’m not talking the hockey mask…he has a full-on bald mask, that clearly looks to be the work of professionals. What is he – a full-time paramedic and part-time special-effects artist? Obviously, there would have been no problem accepting that Tommy made that mask…but Roy? Nuh-uh.
While we’re at it, why does Roy seem to have super-strength at the end of the film? I mean, this guy takes one hell of a beating, but he just keeps coming, with not even a peep or grunt of pain. I’m sure his adrenaline is racing, but c’mon…would it have been too much to ask for some signs that the guy (who we must remember is just a normal guy posing as Jason) is hurting?
Finally, we should address the final scene, which tries to duplicate the ending of Part IV by suggesting that now Tommy has really snapped, and is on his way to continuing Jason’s murderous ways.
Well, sorry, movie…but I don’t stand for that crap. You can’t tease something at the end of the last movie, spend the majority of this movie still hinting at it, only to finally reveal it’s not the truth, and then just start teasing it all over again. If you wanted to make Tommy the killer this time around, then fine…but are we instead supposed to believe that his ordeal with Jason in Part IV wasn’t enough to drive him completely crazy? That he needed just one more experience with a completely different killer before he could go mad and become the franchise’s new villain? Or were they simply setting the stage for a whole series of sequels where Tommy would seemingly overcome his demons, only to once again snap at the end of each flick? I guess we’ll never know…because if there’s one definite good thing you can say about Friday the 13th: Part V, it’s that its complete creative failure – and the audience reaction to it – forced the producers to rethink the future direction of the series. It was time to go back to giving the fans what they wanted. The only problem was, what they wanted was Jason, and he was dead….
What ever to do?
FINAL SCORE: 1 out of 4 Hockey Masks
Posted on November 8, 2014, in Franchise Post-Mortems, Friday the 13th, Reviews and tagged Friday the 13th, Jason Voorhees, New Wave, Paramedics, Slashers, Tommy Jarvis. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.